Story and photos by KJ Philp, March 2016 Issue.
Constructed in 1928, the C.P. Stephens DeSoto Six Motorcars building housed automotive sales and services for the next half-century. The building, situated on the Southeast corner of Central Avenue and Roosevelt Street, was later home to antique shops and an advertising firm before becoming vacant.
After 83 years of use and disuse, the structure was in very poor condition. In 2011, it was acquired by Ken Cook of Washington, who set out to bring the building back to life with the help of Motley Design Group and Mountain West Contracting.
Last spring, the building opened as DeSoto Central Market (DCM). Billed as “a place to eat, meet and drink local,” it is home to a handful of relatively new and independently operated restaurants.
Here’s a quick tour: Upon entering, you’re greeted by the The DeSoto Central Market Bar, which is lined by a dozen industrial draftsman-style bar stools that have reclaimed wooden seats and backrests. Sprouting up from the center of the nearly L-shaped counter is a bouquet of metalwork that leads up to the railing of the second floor.
According to Mackenzie Collier Interiors Incorporated, subtle automotive touches, as well as elements of Art Deco and Depression-Era style, were incorporated to reflect the period of the building’s origin.
The staircase to the second floor is situated in the center of the first floor’s open seating area, and on the other side of the staircase, is Tea & Toast Co., a perfect spot for espresso or small breakfast/brunch-style offerings ranging from quiche to pastries. Continue heading into the back (east side) of the building and the next restaurant you’ll see is Walrus & The Pearl, where the oysters, flown in daily, are accompanied by a wide variety of seafood displayed on beds of ice. From there (clockwise), there’s the DeSoto Central Market Burger Joint, The Larder + The Delta, Adobo Drago and Radish Salad & Juice.
(Editor’s Note: The Larder + The Delta, chef Stephen Jones’ Southern-influenced restaurant at Desoto Central Market, closed in July 2017. Jones said he plans to reopen in a new space.)
Needless to say, this is the perfect dining destination to accommodate a group with diverse palates or someone looking for a great cup of coffee and free Wi-Fi.
On my first visit, a weekday lunch escape from the office, the space was less full than expected. This made for easy parking, no lines, short wait times on our orders and plenty of seating options throughout the 17,000 square foot-space.
After checking out all the distinctly different offerings, I opted for Guac This Way salad from Radish. This combination of mixed greens, avocado, grape tomatoes, red onion, crispy tortilla strips and grilled chicken (optional) came in a to-go container with the lime-cilantro vinaigrette on the side. I’d heard terrific things about their fresh produce and cold-pressed juices, and this lime-cilantro salad dressing did not disappoint. Next time, though, instead of holding the chicken, I think subbing it for black beans might be a heartier and more cost-effective option.
Meanwhile, without any hesitation, my coworkers went straight to the DeSoto Central Market Burger Joint. And from what I witnessed, you’d be wise to as well. First up was the South x Southwest burger, which comes with a pork patty, poblano cheese, candied jalapenos, pepper jack fondue and roasted corn aioli.
Seconds later, the DeSoto Burger was delivered to our table. This namesake burger has all the makings of a classic, including Niman Ranch beef, red wine braised onions, aged cheddar, Arizona lettuce and peppered bacon.
The Kennebec French Fries, I was informed, are separate. And the burger joint offers a signature Portobello burger as well as a black bean patty for substitution on any of their offerings.
Our lunch experience was a great. But the true test of any establishment with a patio this fantastic is brunch. And so, I returned later that week for a mid-Saturday visit.
The outdoor bar was in full effect and the patio was abuzz – add in bicycles and puppies and you have all the signs of a proper brunch in the gayborhood.
My dining date and I started with coffee from Tea & Toast Co., and then we were on to brunch. I learned very quickly that each restaurant is left to their own determination of how much they care to deviate from their set menu for weekend brunch seekers Believe it or not, I hardly noticed.
My other half spied someone’s dish as we approached the counter of The Larder + The Delta, which turned out to be The Classic: two eggs, four generous strips of apple wood-smoked bacon and toast (which can be substituted for potatoes). And just like that, her mind was made up.
I was glad we landed here, as I remembered on our way out after lunch I spied someone’s heaping bowl of cauliflower and inquired as to what it was and where they ordered it. Of course, I should have guessed it was one of chef Stephen Jones’ Southern-inspired creations on the menu here. Consider yourself warned: this isn’t the type of vegetable your mother used to nag you to eat. Rather, it appeared to be battered, fried, smothered in Homeboy’s Hot Sauce, mixed with pickled celery and ewe’s blue cheese (which I skipped). Each serving is piled into a bowl and garnished with celery leaves. As you know, I eat a lot of vegetables. But I cannot recall the last time I ate such a decadent and indulgent take on one – and that’s only the first item listed on the menu. (There’s still so much culinary exploration to be done here, especially for you carnivorous types!)
But what kind of review would this be if I stopped there? So, on to Adobo Dragon I went.
Here, chef Allan Inocencio’s Asian-Latin fusion cuisine is a truly unique experience. While their Bento Boxes piqued my interest in a review I’d read previously, I simply could not resist the Bao. One order comes with a side salad and two steam buns filled with your choice of albondigas (beef/pork meatballs with hoisin-romesco and curtido), pork (carnitas with pipian curry and bleu cheese), chicken (grilled with mango salsa and chimichurri sauce), fish (salmon, guava-chili jam and wasabi huancaina), or the vegetarian option, which is actually vegan.
While mixing and matching is encouraged, I ordered two of the Vegetarian Bao. This salty soy combination of roasted mushrooms and rajas in soy adobo was perfectly balanced with the deceptively airy buns. I rarely turn down lime or Sriracha, and admittedly am not a fan of doughy delights, but these surpassed my expectations without any additional flavors.
Overall, DCM boasts eclectic eats carefully created by chefs who are exceptional at what they do. Keep in mind, though, that this is a low-maintenance counter service (and to-go friendly) set up. So basically, what these restaurants may lack in presentation, they make up for in innovation.
It’s hard to believe DeSoto Central Market will celebrate its first anniversary in April, but what better reason to venture into this remarkable space and savor these eclectic flavors?
Join Savannah Stevens and friends for Drag Queen Bingo on the first Wednesday of every month at DeSoto Central Market! The fun starts at 7 p.m., but arriving early to guarantee a seat is recommended, and prizes will be awarded to bingo winners.
For more information, visit facebook.com/desotocentralmkt.
DeSoto Central Market
915 N. Central Ave., Phoenix
Hours: 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Min-Wed; 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Thurs; 7 a.m.-midnight Fri-Sat; 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun
(Brunch times vary by restaurant.)